A consumer group filed suit yesterday to force the FDA to remove 10 widely used food, drug and cosmetic dyes from the market.

Public Citizen, a consumers' lobbying group founded by Ralph Nader, alleged that the agency has abused its discretion by taking 24 years to decide whether the dyes are safe.

The FDA has not issued its decision, although the 1960 food-dyes law required it to rule by January 1963. Since that year, the agency has repeatedly extended its deadline, most recently from last December to February.

Public Citizen said the dyes are "too dangerous for continued use by the public" because they are known to cause cancer. The FDA staff early last year recommended a ban on six of the 10 dyes.

In its lawsuit, the group argues that the FDA has failed to declare the dyes safe, a requirement for them to be marketed under the 1960 law, and that its extensions have gone on for so long that they no longer can be considered "good-faith" delays allowed in the law.

Three of the 10 dyes account for more than half of all food dyes consumed in the United States, Public Citizen said.

They are Red No. 3, used in candy and baked goods; Yellow No. 5, used in pet food, beverages and baked goods; and Yellow No. 6, used in beverages, candy and desserts.

There was no immediate comment from the FDA.